Weekend Beats: Down on the Norfside

Several times I’ve written here about A$AP Rocky’s 2011 mixtape Live. Love. A$AP, a late-capitalist gem. The entire text is eminently bumpable, but my favorite tracks remain those produced by Clams Casino, who recently did work on my favorite album of 2015, Vince Staples’s double-disc Summertime ’06.

cover of Vince Staples - Summertime 06

Double EPs are risky. There are vast masterpieces like Exile on Main St., but often such albums are at least a little bloated and could be slimmed (e.g., Wilco’s Being There). Staples pulls it off, though. Summertime ’06 doesn’t have any obvious radio-ready singles–no bangers, no anthems, no easy hooks. This isn’t Drake. A fundamentally grimmer album than what usually runs up the Billboard charts, it’s more like Enter the Wu-Tang or Hell Hath No Fury.

That does not mean the songs won’t snag in your cortex. Staples’s writing is a memorably lyrical blend of braggadocio and fear; meditation and narrative; pride in Long Beach, California, and the urge toward other worlds. One of the tracks Clams Casino produced is “Norf Norf,” which sounds like Aphex Twin spliced with the mid-2000s Neptunes aesthetic (and Bjork and Viktor Vaughn), then drenched in THC and cough syrup.

The track is not traditionally catchy. It makes the listener do some work first. Staples’s tense bluster is gorgeous but taxing, because his subject matter is so grim, while the production is groggy and nightmarish. And yet there is, I bet, a decent chance you will keep thinking about “Norf Norf” after you hear it once. Sit alone with it for a few minutes.

“I had to inhale all the books”: Coates the Canonist

Since Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me dropped a couple of weeks ago, the book has been reviewed by a brigade of critics, including the tidal choruses of Twitter. Most of the serious evaluations have been positive; some are even euphoric. They’re still pouring in, and I’m down with consensus: the man’s prose is exhilarating, his ethical intelligence acute, his historical knowledge vast. The book’s meditation on American racism has immediately become required reading, and I needn’t add to what many other critics have said about that general line of his critique. Here I’d like to focus on a smaller but nevertheless significant aspect of the work: I want to examine the bookworm’s Between the World and Me and speculate briefly on what that says about Coates’s writing mind.

In a recent series of tweets, John Warner (@biblioracle) remarked that in contrast to James Baldwin, to whom he is often compared, Coates has a voice more reminiscent of the classroom than the pulpit. I agree. Granted, Baldwin was just as much of an intellectual, and there is a sermonic element in Coates’s address to his son, but Coates sounds more like Toni Morrison when she’s in critic mode. (A mode where, ironically, she wrote BTWM’s only cover blurb, which names Coates Baldwin’s heir.) He explicitly, repeatedly identifies himself as a reader with catholic tastes, as a self inseparable from an education in books (among other things, of course). BTWM inhabits a corpus of critical theory, much of it “Western,” even though its author, like Malcolm X, the bibliophilic hero of his youth, rejects Eurocentric models of cultural capital that laid claim to this tradition of thought. Plato and Said and Nietzsche and Henry Louis Gates and dozens of other writers inform the book without being openly referenced; others who actually are named, like DuBois and Hurston and Baraka, mark Coates’s entrance into intellectual adulthood. His work underscores the centrality of writing and reading—the centrality of printed texts—to the intellectual equipment of any serious person.

Since childhood, when his mother challenged him to write in response to frustrations, Coates had what he calls “the gift of study” (a gift suppressed in most people.) This readerly gift is the twin of his need to write; and these acts form a critical humanist consciousness. He sees “the craft of writing as the art of thinking.” Writing well requires “a confrontation with my own innocence, my own rationalizations,” for “loose and useless words [a]re not separate from loose and useless thoughts.” Speaking of “the art of journalism,” he deems it “a powerful technology for seekers,” a claim that can be generalized to all ambitious writing. His version of the Socratic examined life is fundamentally textual.

Further, Coates is a canonist. Not in the normative way that, say, Harold Bloom or Matthew Arnold are, because they see canon-formation and maintenance as primarily an Anglo project; but rather in terms of a basic belief that some texts really are better than almost all others and thus worth passing along to younger generations first. To be sure, he envisions a democratic canon which is constantly interrogated and supplemented, but he’s still a Great Books man. Canonicity is a principle, not a specific roster of content.

The canon isn’t the possession of any particular institution, not even Coates’s beloved Howard. When he began working out his canon, he drew upon the frameworks and resources of the university but remained a free agent “made for the library, not the classroom.” His emerging archive of Great Books flowed into what he calls Mecca, the embodied network of black knowledge, imagination, and experience that encompasses and exceeds the school. Mecca is a lifeworld, is all the breathing human treasure of the African diaspora, a diaspora that called him to read everything he could and cull meaning from the pile. At Howard’s Moorland library, he began to understand that “My reclamation would be accomplished, like Malcolm’s, through books, through my own study and exploration.”

His theory and practice of the library rest on the idea of an ecumenical canon where “Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus,” a quip he borrows from the journalist Ralph Wiley (who was responding to Saul Bellow’s dickhead quip that Zulu culture produced no literary consciousness). The canon is fluid and sometimes internally contradictory—he calls it “the discordant tradition”—because the examined life is like that, too. Being “politically conscious” entails “a constant questioning, questioning as ritual, questioning as exploration rather than the search for certainty.” Shades of Lionel Trilling’s The Liberal Imagination here. Indeed, canonicity enables inquiry in the first place, inquiry which in turn permits modifications of the canon. I suspect Coates and T.S. Eliot would disagree about a lot of things, but here they are brothers. Between the World and Me embeds historical and political critique in a continuum of reading just as Eliot’s essay “Tradition and Individual Talent” conceptualizes literature as a dialectic between a textual canon and the authorial self.

Coates is also a materialist. Our physical bodies do not merely house preexisting souls, they somehow engender these souls. Mind is brain, brain is mind. There is no God nor any consolatory, absolute form of meaning. History has no telos–“the god of history is an atheist,” Coates assures his son. We, and in particular people who live under assault, as African Americans do, have only an endless struggle to be honest about the past, live with dignity in the present, and perhaps imagine the slow possibility of better futures.

“I tell you now that the question of how one should live within a black body, within a country lost in the Dream,” he writes, “is the question of my life, and the pursuit of this question, I have found, ultimately answers itself.” We have “constant interrogation” of and “confrontation with the brutality” that constitutes American history. His fundamental aim, then, is embodied critique: a representation of what it is like to be an American reader and writer with black skin.

Reading, writing, and thinking: these are physical acts for Coates, and in their concreteness they oppose what he calls the Dream, the normative national story in which America is an innocent, uniquely beneficent place predicated on a healthy bank balance of whiteness, which is less a skin tone than an existential ideal. “The Dream thrives on generalizations,” he warns, “on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing.” One of the most trenchant aspects of Between the World and Me is how it enlists the idea of Great Books in a counterattack on the very white-dominant narrative that has long claimed canonicity for itself–that, in fact, has treated print culture in general as an Anglo-European property. This countering move continues a campaign begun by earlier black intellectuals like Henry Louis Gates and Stanley Crouch.

You should buy a copy of BTWM, because it’s a rare honor when you can help a legit thinker get paid. Dude deserves millions. But I hope to look back in fifty years and find the text to be just one part of the Coates wing of the great unfolding American library. Poetry, claims Wallace Stevens, is the scholar’s art. So is the kind of fire Coates has been writing for a half-decade now. The man stores his gunpowder on the bookshelf.

Weekend Verse: Major Jackson’s “New Sphere of Influence”

If you’ve read any of my criticism on this site, you may recall that profuse obscurity in a poem bugs me. If I read a text multiple times and still can’t grasp, or even begin to intuitively sense, what human instance of thinking or action is going on, I lose my appetite. This is a critical attitude I slowly learned in graduate school, by figuring out that when I couldn’t comprehend some piece of post-structural literary theory, that didn’t mean I was dense–it meant the writer sucked. Inscrutability is not complexity. It’s poor, thin-spirited writing, indulging the author at the expense of a reader’s desire for some discernible meaning. In freshman comp classes at my university we call it egocentric writing, and I don’t see why we should not also disparage it in grown-up professional poetry written by people who win awards and get visiting fellowships. (*cough, Jorie Graham and fellow travelers, cough*)

But if you’ve read any of my criticism on this site, you also might remember that I ride for Wallace Stevens, James Tate, Marianne Moore, and other modern weirdos whose poems resist easy explication. (Tate’s “Fuck the Astronauts” may be an exception, but even that blast is characteristically surreal in a homegrown mid-century American way.) So what is the distinction between an obscurantist charlatan and a poet whose work is pleasantly strange and challenging?

The poet I come here to praise (not bury), Major Jackson, is instructive. Jackson’s best and most recent collection, Holding Company (2010), comprises eighty poems that each consist of ten lines, these lines mostly being ten to fifteen syllables long. The book demonstrates some forms of structural control and discursive guidance that prevent its lyrics from becoming unintelligible blobs.

At the highest architectural level, the eighty poems are organized into four groups of twenty; with its 800 lines held to a tight range of lengths, the book is evenly weighted. Now look at a single poem, “New Sphere of Influence”:

This is the year I’ll contemplate the fire-fangled sky
over the isle of Pag, authored by my lover’s eyes.
A crimson rambler uncurls its petals, and I am whistling
a dusty concerto, “Hope with Roadside Flowers.”
I want to unfurl in the sodden fields of her daydreams.
Who wants immortality if she must die?
Once I thought stars were everlasting, only dying
behind a cerulean curtain, cloudy rains at dawn.
My lover’s lips are twin geniuses. I’ve trashed the movie stubs
of my past. I’ve front row seats to her mumbling sleep.

Thematically speaking, this is pretty obviously a love poem, one that cross-breeds the modern (e.g., the closing metaphor of movie theaters) with the Elizabethan. Even if “Who wants immortality if she must die?” did not end with emphatic iambs, the organizing trope of a mistress’ eventual decline and death (and the poet’s self-conscious awareness of this) is a structural principle in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century sonnets, which in turn frequently situate poetry as a partial defeat of death, an uneasy preservation of experience.

Note also the pervasive lyricism, something often missing from Difficult, prose-fingered contemporary poems. “New Sphere of Influence” isn’t lyrical just because it is short; it is lyrical because it is musically textured. Jackson doesn’t use a strict pattern of feet, but in places the text momentarily adopts a metrical rhythm (“authored by my lover’s eyes”). The lines are about the length of a full breath. Inhale, exhale, line break. There are no true end rhymes, but Jackson includes some partial rhymes, like sky/eyes, and the poem’s innards employ assonance (“seats to her mumbling sleep”) and alliteration, as in “My lover’s lips.” There are also some resonances between the middles of lines, as with three and five: “rambler uncurls” gets picked up by “I want to unfurl.” The poem quivers with sounds.

The images, meanwhile, are dreamlike and associative–one suspects the speaker is on the border of sleep–yet they also deliver intelligible scenes of human love. I’m sure the sky over Pag, a real Croatian isle where no doubt many lovers vacation, is sometimes “fire-fangled,” even if that is a Stevens-esque neologism; “sodden fields of her daydreams” is a visually lucid metaphor; and the “twin geniuses” of the beloved’s lips are likewise easily pictured.

This is a mind running with the body abed. The poem is not a facile lesson or narrative scenario–not straightforward, it is strange, like the mind–but it does record (or create) a genuine experience that most readers will recognize. Lyric poetry is especially good at this, and Major Jackson is especially good at lyric poetry.

Edgar Allan Poe, American Freelancer

In 1844, Edgar Allan Poe wrote to another three-namer, James Russell Lowell, swearing that “I am not ambitious” (his emphasis), “because I feel nothing of ambition. I really perceive the vanity about which most men merely prate—the vanity of human or temporary life” (1). This was bullshit. Like all writers who are honest with themselves, Poe wanted readers. Things never worked out so well, unfortunately.

He was a garret-dweller even when he wasn’t living in an actual garret. Poe knew more about renting pinched, grimy spaces than any college student. In large part this is because his short, unhappy life bounced from one poorly paid writing project to another: dashed-off book reviews, his improvisational brilliance saving many from mediocrity even as they vanished from public memory, like book reviews almost always do; brief essays and columns, some of which he published, in multiple venues, as his “Marginalia”; editorial gigs at journals that just kept going under; occasional interviews with loftier figures, such as Charles Dickens in Philadelphia in 1842 (2); unappreciated, shockingly original stories published in obscure magazines, and poems, most of them bad, that received even less attention. Mixed in were letters written from a financial position that was frequently desperate. Here, sick and broke in Baltimore at the age of twenty-four, he writes to his stepfather, John Allan, with whom he had fallen out:

It has now been more than two years since you have assisted me, and more than three since you have spoken to me. I feel little hope that you will pay any regard to this letter, but still I cannot refrain from making one more attempt to interest you in my behalf. If you will only consider in what a situation I am placed you will surely pity me–without friends, without any means, consequently[,] of obtaining employment, I am perishing–absolutely perishing for want of aid. And yet I am not idle–nor addicted to any vice–nor have I committed any offence against society which would render me deserving of so hard a fate. For God’s sake pity me, and save me from destruction.

Allan did not answer and died eleven months later. Poe had been cut from the will.

In the mid-nineteenth century, as the United States began molting from a slave-holding backwater into a slave-holding market empire, the nation’s publishing sector expanded quickly. Despite earning very little, Poe’s career in this world of East Coast magazines was active, even frenzied. As both writer and editor, he was a prototype of the modern American freelancer, living gig to gig, collecting bylines, trying to build an audience, rarely making much money, drinking too much, getting holes in his socks–living on the edge of capitalist respectability, in several respects. In 2015, he’d be on Twitter (probably with a morbidly funny feed, given what his stories are often like). He’d have a good blog. He’d be sending pitches to Buzzfeed and n+1 alike. Poe might crop up, pissed and grim about something, on Gawker, or maybe in the Kinja comments.

This was the “thankless field of Letters” (4), where, despite his membership, he was never at home. The “Magazine Prison-House,” as the title of one short essay calls it, left almost no time for longer literary projects. “The whole tendency of the age is Magazine-ward,” he contends in the 1846 piece “Magazine Literature in America” (5). The reading public is short on attention and tantalized by the new avalanche of written media–a complaint which may sound familiar to 2015’s general readers–and so “Quarterly Reviews,” which are more scholarly and specialized, seem “out of keeping with the rush of the age” (his emphasis). In their place, Poe wants “daily journals” and monthlies. “We now demand,” he continues, “the light artillery of the intellect; we need the curt, the condensed, the pointed, the readily diffused–in place of the verbose, the detailed, the voluminous, the inaccessible.” I kept thinking of Twitter, and checking Twitter.

Reasonably aware of his own assumptions, Poe also underlines the potential cognitive and culture damage caused by endless “light artillery:

On the other hand, the lightness of the artillery should not degenerate into popgunnery–by which term we may designate the character of the greater portion of the newspaper press–their sole legitimate object being the discussion of ephemeral matters in an ephemeral manner. Whatever talent may be brought to bear upon our daily journals . . . still the imperative necessity of catching, currente calamo [“with a running pen”], each topic as it flits before the eye of the public, must of course materially narrow the limits of their power.

Half a century earlier, in his famed preface to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth gripes about the same disease of inattention, impatience, and overstimulation, which he calls “a craving for extraordinary incident[.]”

Wordsworth, though, avoided the hodge-podge world of journalists, preferring to write lyrics, some of them quite good, in his cottage. Poe was neck-deep in it. Like many of his contemporaries–like many of us–he was both spooked and thrilled by the modern flood of content, and bled dry by its enabling economic model. The freelancing, permanent-rental economy is not entirely new.

1) Cited in Jerome McGann, Alien Angel: The Poet Edgar Allan Poe (Harvard, 2014), p. 53.
2) J. Gerald Kennedy, Introduction to The Portable Edgar Allan Poe, ed. J. Gerald Kennedy (Penguin, 2006), xxi.
3) Ibid., p. 455.
4) Poe, “Some Secrets of the Magazine Prison-House” (1845), cited in Ibid., p. 579.
5) Cited in Ibid, p. 599.

Stop With the Vaping: Some Skewed and Fragmentary Notes

While I’m nowhere close to Jonathan Franzen’s irritability level, I do like to complain about the late-capitalist modernity of which I, born in 1981, am assuredly a child. Lately my gripe synapses have been firing like mad over vaping, which has gained enough cultural momentum, both practically and rhetorically, to get named the Oxford Dictionary’s 2014 word of the year. I detest it: the self-congratulatorily “cool” practice, the ugly enabling technology, the cultural and capitalistic vocabularies that have congealed around it (1).

Now, given that I wouldn’t let my first-year writing students pass off a personal opinion as self-evident fact (I think vaping is breathtakingly lame, thus it is), I’ve yoked together a provisional list–just some working notes that might lead to a genuine essay–of reasons for my antipathy. I hope I don’t seem like a youngish person playing curmudgeon, because people like that are boring phonies. While reading, light up if you feel like it. Even vapers are invited; it’s a free country, bruh. Here goes.

1) I’ll be honest about the age factor: vaping is largely a practice of the relatively young, and I’m getting older, even if I’m not yet “at the stage / Where one starts to resent the young,” as Auden puts it in “A Walk After Dark.” To an extent, it is inevitable that I–that we–begin to feel alienated by at least some of the ideologies and behaviors of newer generations. This is true even for someone in my line of work, teaching, which is necessarily founded upon a deep love for the potential and freshness of the young. Still, in my day, we sat on the steps of the English Department building and smoked our Camels (which we had walked miles to buy) down to the dang filter.

2) A lot of ear-gauged, face-pierced, sloppy-tatted, snapback-wearing extremo dweebs have embraced vaping. Just look at the photos in this excellent mini-ethnography of the UK vape scene that George Nelson wrote for Vice a few weeks ago. Do you want to hang with these guys (and they are mostly guys)? The scene is nearly as bad as people who are vocally reeeeaaaaally into weed. Nelson also reports that many manufacturers have comically “hip” names, like the American company Space Jam and E-Gains. Space Jam and E-Gains! Finish laughing so you can get to the next entry.

3) The material one vapes sounds repugnant. It’s called e-juice, for fuck’s sake. E-juice. The flavor names are reminiscent of the off-brand condoms sold in bodegas, or, in some cases, of the lacquered sugar candies my grandma kept in glass dishes for visitors. Druid, a.k.a. liquorice! Summer Pudding! Nacho cheese! Cool mint! Straight-up old-fashioned Bubblegum like you chewed in fourth grade! What grown-up child needs everything densely and artificially flavored? Besides, know what else has a pronounced, nuanced flavor? Good tobacco.

4) Vape bars and lounges: Ooooh! You mean I get to pay money to sit around and not drink alcohol? Oh, vaping gives you a little buzz? Well let me in, doorman. And here I was just gonna order a bottled water in Starbucks. These vaper dens are like bad acne on LA’s face; I assume this is true in other cities, too. Smoke a fucking hookah, at least–not that those are any cooler.

5) Sorry, mom, but despite decades of official scolding based on nasty medical facts, a cigarette looks cool, cooler than a vape rig; and I say this as someone who quit smoking American Spirits five years ago after growing disgusted by the taste of smoke. Imagine Marlene Dietrich or Jackson Pollack pausing to languidly or hungrily push the button on a plastic vape pen.

6) Hey, people who claim vaping/e-cigs are healthy, slow your roll: the medical community isn’t exactly in agreement with you yet. And if you hate secondhand smoke, well, vaping disgorges plenty of that.

7) Perhaps most prominently, vaping is part of a wider, genuinely troubling, infantile desire–one that originated in but is hardly confined to the US–to have pleasure without consequence. It’s of a piece with the consumption discourse of “light” cigarettes, Michelob Ultra, reduced-fat chips, and chocolate-flavored Weight Watchers snacks.

That’s all for now. Add to my provisional list in the comments–or argue loudly with me–if you are so moved. Look, everyone, my forehead didn’t even turn red while I wrote all this. Small victories in consciousness.

1) I’m mainly talking about tobacco-based vaping here, although weed smokers who vape also kind of bug me–just get a pipe or roll something like your forefathers and mothers. But if your vaping is medicinal (say you’re a cancer patient dealing with nausea from chemo, or someone struggling with COPD), then by all means, vape up.

Weekday Beats: Regret Nothing and Everything

The experimental electronic duo Ford and Lopatin (1) released the head-bending Channel Pressure in 2011. Reminiscent of synth-intensive Eighties compositions, the album is gorgeous: architecturally lyrical, densely textured, limbic, swirling, poignant (even at times melancholy) but with a playful edge. “World of Regret,” the lead single from the album (to the extent that such extended, unified compositions produce “singles”), is especially catchy: swifter than most other tracks, goofily exuberant, almost celebratory. Take heart. You might even smile.

And then they upped the ante with a music video that complements the song perfectly. Composed of intentionally clumsy CGI animation–like someone put iPhone emoji in front of a rented green screen–the video invites us to a gluttonous dinner with Ford and Lopatin, during which they greedily, then compulsively, then at last wearily tuck into cartoon pizzas, lacquered burgers, shiny pigs, lurid tropical fruit, and other slick victuals. You might call the aesthetic Gameboy Luxe.

We hope this fun, free blog content improves the workweek, y’all. Don’t eat too fast. Listen as much as you need to.

1. Daniel Lopatin, by the way, is far more prolific under the pseudonym Oneohtrix Point Never. His work as OPN is likewise astonishingly beautiful and freely streamable online, don’t ya know.

Sonnets, Twitter, and Sunburn’d Brains

One of the coolest things the Renaissance gave us, besides heliocentrism and The Prince, was the sonnet sequence. All the hot boys had one in the 1500s: Edmund Spenser did (much less boring than The Faerie Queene), Sir Philip Sidney did, Shakespeare did, of course. Jump forward to the Victorian era, and you’ve got Modern Love, George Meredith’s queasy portrait of a dead marriage (it’s like a Noah Baumbach film) that is almost unknown by contemporary readers. Around the same time, Elizabeth Barrett Browning dropped Sonnets from the Portugese, which is admittedly kind of disappointing next to the intermittently awesome novel-in-verse Aurora Leigh. But still, sonnets!

Many keystrokes have been devoted to poetry’s death in modernity. We don’t, the narrative goes, have the patience to read and savor it anymore; we would rather be on social media or watching Netflix. We can’t sit down and pay attention. But even if you buy this story–and I’m not always sure I do–you can’t deny that lyric poetry, in some forms at least, is structurally similar to a dominant media platform, Twitter. In the sonnet and the tweet, compression of rhetoric, wit, and image is what matters; in a nice bit of mathematical coincidence, sonnets have 14 lines, while tweets can’t go over 140 characters. (At a weird, half-articulate limbic level, I don’t even think it is a coincidence.)

Brevity might be poetry’s evolutionary advantage in the contemporary media ecosystem. Most readers are no longer able to stomach Bleak House, but at least some still have energy to read a fourteen-line tidbit. Some might even re-read: while Twitter infects you with the urge to obsessively check for new content, sonnets urge you to go back over the territory, and you can, because sonnets are so compact.

Granted, given their gender politics and all-male authorship, sixteenth-century lyrics can sometimes sound like men’s-rights activist blogs in verse, but that is only if you read them as a blunt presentist, expecting four-hundred-year-old sonnets to accord with contemporary progressive thought instead of viewing each text’s motifs (e.g. the scornful, icy, or oblivious beloved) as rhetorical equipment shared by European poets of the period. While you can do some biographical mapping–Whom was Sidney in love with? Who is Shakespeare’s “Mr. W.H.”? Was Poet X trying to tup Poet Y’s mistress? et cetera–ultimately these aren’t texts about the lives of real people, but performances within (and individual reworkings of) a literary tradition. Still, I understand why Sonnet #31 from Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, for instance, might grate a little. When the speaker’s “long-with-love-acquainted eyes” survey the “sad steps” and “wan” face of the moon in the night sky, he concludes that the earth’s satellite knows what’s up. The sonnet’s sestet is elegant whining:

Then, even of fellowship, O moon, tell me,
Is constant love deem’d there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be lov’d, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call “virtue” there, ungratefulness?

I’ve enjoyed Astrophel and Stella‘s opener since I first read it ten years ago, sitting in my back yard in Charlottesville, Virginia, on a poetic spring day. The speaker’s partly ironic faith in a spontaneous, organic afflatus–a natural lyric style–a anticipates the Romantics and Walt Whitman; the pregnancy metaphor for artistic creation is arresting; and I love the image of a “sunburn’d brain.” Come to think of it, that’s what Twitter does to the mind. To paraphrase the Clipse, it gets hot ’round here, so when you come to the Reader, bring your sunblock.

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she, dear she, might take some pleasure of my pain,
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain,
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe:
Studying inventions fine, her wits to entertain,
Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn’d brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting invention’s stay;
Invention, Nature’s child, fled stepdame study’s blows;
And others’ feet still seem’d but stranger in my way.
Thus, great with child to speak, and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write!”

Weekend Beats: Wassup

Ezra Pound famously said that poetry is news that stays news. A rejoinder would be, “Well, at least some does.” But the remark has a ring to it.

Anyway, a few years ago, urbane Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky, who subsequently blew the fuck up, released the space-news classic LIVE LOVE A$AP, and the tasteful person’s iTunes roster was never the same again. The mixtape has a deep bench of songs, unlike most mixtapes, and it holds up well.

A favorite of ours is the fourth track, “Wassup.” Its magnificently cocky, couplet-based patter swaggers across a narcotic, purple, tidal beat by the brilliant but unfortunately named producer Clams Casino, and the YouTube video should have 2.3 billion views, not just 2.3 million (as of this publication). Beyond its formal elegance and existential cool–its aesthetic attitude, in place of a moral or philosophical orientation–the song has no depth, which is something Vladimir Nabokov, who believed that art should have as little as possible to do with morals or intellectualizing, would smile at. “Wassup” slithers lazily but somehow yanks.

We ain’t talking ’bout no money, we ain’t talkin’ bout no cars. We are just a humble arts and culture blog, y’all. Enjoy the weekend, enjoy all the weekends.